All the litter people throw away tend to accumulate in various places. Sooner or later they end up in rivers, the water drives them for miles, then wash them into the reeds or wash them ashore (and if it doesn’t, they continue to the ocean).The volunteer initiative TeSzedd! (PickItUp!) strives to eliminate these kind of accumulations. I already wrote about what kind of volunteer programs me and my friends took part in; in this article I’ll tell how litter picking this spring was like – spending our free time in a useful way, in good weather and pleasant company. Written by Noémi Szabó.

The event

This year, TeSzedd! Önkéntesen a tiszta Magyarországért! (PickItUp! Volunteering for a clean Hungary!), the country’s biggest volunteer campaign, was held between 18th and 24th March. In 2019 it was organized for the eighth time. During this one week, lots of volunteers gather across the country, in towns, and even at multiple points within towns. It’s a great initiative and a useful community event, well-organized an even better timed – spring weather is pleasantly warm but not yet hot, and there’s a good chance for days without rain.

In order to join, registration is necessary  (via email or Facebook), because the organizers provide gloves and bags for participants, so they need to know the number of people they can expect. The registration period ends more or less a week before the event, so one must pay close attention not to miss it. Well, we did miss it :). But there’s no need to worry, even their website tells that anyone is welcome to join regardless, but there’s a chance of not getting any equipment, so in such a case it’s better to bring your own stuff.

You can join the campaign not only as a volunteer, but as a coordinator, too. In the former case you only have to go to a specified location at a specified time and pick up litter, in the latter case you’re responsible for distributing equipment, getting the attendance sheets signed, keeping the team together, and conducting the event. As a coordinator, you define where you’re going to pick up litter, as a volunteer, you can choose from already designated locations (if you’re smart, you’ll search for one close to your home). Me and my friend weren’t so astute, we pounced on the very first event we saw, so from the 14th and 16th district (where we live) we went to the 20th district, to the Gubacsi abutment :)

This location is managed by the Pesterzsébet – Átalakuló Duna-part (Pesterzsébet – A Transforming Danube-Bank) civil society campaign, who organized the litter picking (already for the fifth time) on the occasion of World Water Day.

Our day of litter picking

Since we work on weekdays, we chose a weekend event. It was supposed to last from 9 a.m. to noon, in practice is lasted until we got too tired or until there was no more litter to pick (which, let’s face it, was unlikely to ever happen). I met my friend at Örs Vezér Square, and we both came prepared: we brought umbrellas, water, food, tissue paper, gloves, big garbage bags, and a camera. The sun was shining, the sky was clear, we had a beautiful day. After a long tram and bus ride, we arrived quite early, people just started to gather. Apart from us, there were younger and older people, families (with small children), and even a school class who arrived with their teacher. Our coordinator was a man who brought a bunch bags (big black garbage bags and ones with the TeSzedd! label, too), gloves, a few rakes, and water in a wheelbarrow.

The beginning

After everyone had arrived, the coordinator told us the safety regulations (like that we shouldn’t pick up dangerous objects/materials, sharp things or things that can cause infections), then we had to sign an attendance sheet. Meanwhile, gloves and bags got distributed. Following the roughly 10-minute briefing, the team set off along the Danube Bank. It didn’t take long to find litter – to no one’s surprise. Wherever we could, we climbed down to the reeds, where much plastic waste had accumulated, mostly PET bottles. Of course, there were always things to pick up in areas next to the bank as well.

The work

Me and my friend went down to the reeds immediately, where so much stuff was lying around over 4 square meters that we stayed there for a longer time. The deeper we dug, the more (usually plastic) objects we found – we even found a backpack in the water. At the end our bag got so heavy that it was hard to haul it back up, so we took off our jackets/sweaters as soon as we got back.

We made multiple such trips to the reeds, at every location we found scores of plastic bottles, and in one case, a used syringe, too. Our bags were getting full – fortunately we brought our own, too, since we only got one from the organizers. We could just leave full bags at the side of the road, these were taken away to the collection point by a very polite and helpful young boy with a wheelbarrow.

From time to time we chatted with the other volunteers, everyone was friendly, and they were visibly enjoying doing good. I especially liked how enthusiastically the eighth graders were working, bending over without complaining, and encouraging each other with untiring glee when they had to get into a less pleasant spot.

After the event I read on szelektalok.hu (here) that this program can count as part of the mandatory community service for high schoolers (obviously the eighth graders at the event weren’t yet concerned). It counts as 5 hours (1 hour preparation, 3 hours litter picking and 1 hour for the conference afterwards), and 3 more hours can be collected by helping to select a site, so by finding areas with litter. I already liked the introduction of the 50-hour mandatory community service, but the more I learn about it, the more useful it seems. For example, motivating children to try out volunteering for litter picking is beneficial.

Back to the event: it was really nice to see how many families with small children came. I mean really small children – even kindergartners. Now that’s what I call a mindful upbringing! For example, one father and his son came by kick scooter. I think that’s the way to go! That’s how you set an example, to educate and sensitize a child. In addition, children enjoy the event: they like being out at the riverbank with their parents, in good weather.

Experiences

As we progressed, we noticed a large, grassy-bushy area on the other side of the road, with heaps of trash in multiple spots. We were just about to go there to pick them up, when an elderly man walking his dog told us that it’s a private area, so we can’t enter, and it was up to the landowner to clean up. So with sadness we accepted that we’ll not be the ones to eliminate the pile ruining the view.

We found that most of the litter consisted of plastic bottles. Apart from those we encountered significant amounts of fast food packagings (paper boxes, cups, plastic straws and lids). But in the end the repertoire got very wide: window glass, a shopping cart, firework boxes, an office chair, car tyres, various plastic products.

After having walked kilometers and starting to get tired, we stumbled upon a stretch of riverbank with a two meter wide pile of household waste, right next to which an older man was fishing, apparently unfazed by the pile (maybe he even had a role in its creation). So, together with some of the school kids we mustered up our remaining strength (and our last empty bags), went there and started collecting, while the old man kept fishing next to us, completely unconcerned.

Summary

Several hours of litter picking while bending over, crawling on our knees and clambering into the reeds or bushes is quite tiring and dirty work :). However, it’s very good fun! In addition, you can be proud of yourself in the end, as you can say that you were a really useful member of society for two or three hours.

I find this initiative very good: the organization was perfect, the people were friendly, and it was nice to see so many children being interested in creating a cleaner environment. I had a very good time, and after having lunch with my friend, I even went on a tour around the South-Pest Wastewater Treatment Plant, organized on the occasion of World Water Day. But this is another story, you’ll be able to read about it soon.

I encourage everyone to pick up litter, and for that this organized event is just perfect, but there are many other litter picking projects around the country. You can find these here, collected into a calendar. Also, plogging and the #trashtag challenge can be good hobbies.

You can read the author’s previous articles here and here.

Sources: hert, here, and here.

Translation by Ádám Hittaller.

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